N-S School decisions on religious holidays (observance and policy) and Professional Development Days

by beth on January 26, 2018

Post image for N-S School decisions on religious holidays (observance and policy) and Professional Development Days

Above: Next year’s calendar moves two Professional Development Days from fall to spring and replaces the January day with unscheduled “hybrid” PD hours. (image cropped from district calendar)

Southborough and Northborough schools will continue observing three “high” religious holidays next year. To help smooth the start of the school year, the Professional Development schedule is being adjusted instead.

Observance of the holidays won’t be reconsidered in near-future years, unless there is a “compelling” reason. In addition, the schools will work to adopt a policy for handling other religious holidays.

2019-19 school calendar

(click to enlarge)

The decisions were made when the Combined School Committees meeting adopted the new calendar (image right) on December 20th. [I know that’s more than a month ago. But, it was just days before Christmas and I’m still behind from the holidays!]

Voting on the school calendar is an annual task for the School Committee. But for decades, the high holidays were automatically included under school policy. That changed in recent years.

Former Superintendent Charles Gobron suggested making a change to eliminate them in 2010. He retracted the proposal based on community backlash.

When Superintendent Christine Johnson began researching calendar improvements, the possible change was raised again. Last winter, the school committees changed the school policy to facilitate deciding on a year to year basis.**

Over the past year, the district administration spent a lot of time looking into the issue. That included research and outreach, multiple community surveys, and multiple school committee discussions. And it prompted concerned members of the Jewish community to attend multiple meetings to defend their need to protect Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (There wasn’t really much talk about Good Friday over the past year. Though, that will also remain observed.)

Based on public feedback and data, Superintendent Christine Johnson supported keeping the holidays.

She indicated to committee members that it became clear teachers’ and parents’ frustration with the calendar wasn’t really about holidays. The real issue was the lack of 5 day weeks in the fall. Johnson said that the holidays (which are just a small part of that) should be separated from that conversation.

Given the amount of time spent on religious holidays, she asked for a “moratorium” on readdressing it until needed.

To reassure the community, she urged they shouldn’t need to revisit religious holidays unless another large group asks for an additional day off or some other “compelling” change occurs. That moratorium wasn’t officially voted on. But committee members enthusiastically supported it and told the public the promise was now on record.

In addition, Johnson introduced a new policy she hoped committees will adopt on Religious holidays. She reminded members that every time holidays come up, lack of school policy (to guide teachers and students) is raised.

The new policy will specify the amount of time that must be allowed for students to make up work they missed by observing holidays that are on school days, etc. (Click here to read the draft.)

As for improving the fall schedule, Johnson recommended changes to the way they do Professional Development. Only four of the five Professional Development days will be “embedded in” next year’s school calendar. 

As usual, two days will take place at the end of summer, before students begin. The two days normally held in the fall will be moved to March. The final day will be replaced with a “hybrid” day. 

Johnson explained that the hybrid is a pilot that the Teachers union agreed to adopt. It consists of six hours during the school year. The teachers are being encouraged to use that time to collaborate with each other.

If the pilot is successful next year, the administration may expand that to up to 12 hours, representing two days.

In past years, the school generally held three PD days over October – January.** The first was around Columbus Day weekend (Friday before or Tuesday after) or the Tuesday November election day. The second was held the Monday after Thanksgiving. The third was the Tuesday following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Johnson said that in the past, administrators assumed parents would appreciate the PDs being placed to make long holiday weekends. But it was made clear to them that’s not the case. Many don’t have Columbus Day off. And the longer Thanksgiving break was unwelcome given the number of days off in the fall. 

Adding to calendar issues are the other non-religious holidays and days off in the fall – Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, and the day after Thanksgiving. In addition, the approved calendar doesn’t address school-specific half days to allow for Parent-Teacher conferences and curriculum nights.

comparing the first half of the school calendars

(click to enlarge)

This past fall, some Southborough parents had to deal with six early dismissal days during the first three months of school. Johnson indicated curriculum nights would remain and made no mention of the half days. Without that information, it’s hard to know how many 5 day weeks there will be next fall.

(In the image right, I compare the first half of this year to next year – highlighting the change that the early dismissals can make.)

As for the new schedule for PD days, Johnson said that March is an ideal month for it. Next year, MCAS testing won’t begin until April. And it’s late enough in winter to reduce the risk of snow cancellations on days when outside experts are scheduled to visit.

March is also the time that the Towns’ Youth and Family Services usually seek to hold “unplugged” day for families to connect. Johnson said she will now be able to make two good recommendations when asked. The PD days scheduled during the next school year are Monday, March 11, and Friday, March 29.

The 2018-19 calendar was adopted by unanimous vote of all attending members of the Northborough, Southborough, and Regional school committees (and the Superintendancy Union). You can open the pdf here. The new policy will take more time (and readings) to adopt.

*The calendar can be voted on with simply 48 hours notice on a public agenda. But school committees are required to hold readings of a new policy in multiple meetings before approving changes. That issue was resolved last winter.

The individual school committees adopted the redlined revised policy below last winter:

Schools close on legal holidays.

Schools may close on other days as voted and approved by the school committee good Friday, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, if these holidays fall on a school day.

**For some reason, there were only 4 PD days in the 2015-16 school year, with only two taking place after school was in session. But there were five in the couple years before and the years since.

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